Mark Regan, the charismatic hooker known as ‘Ronnie’ who was part of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning squad, today reveals a remarkable secret: he was severely deaf throughout his rugby career. Here, in an exclusive interview with his daughter ALEXANDRA REGAN, a journalist student at Gloucester University, he tells his story
My dad looks back on his 2003 and 2007 World Cup campaigns with a smile as he tells me: “Benny Kay, the line-out leader was watching me as I got ready to throw the ball and was no doubt thinking, ‘Why is he looking at my lips?’ Well, I just couldn’t hear his call!”
Dad says most of his teammates and the people he played with at Bristol and Bath had no idea he was severely deaf. He spent most of his time lip-reading!
“I took a lot more concentration than most other hookers needed at line-out time… but it couldn’t have been too bad as I had some of the best throwing averages.
“Luckily I had 20-20 vision and could see their lips moving! Also if I missed hearing the call I had already memorized the movements for each call, that helped a lot.
“Once when I was playing for Bristol with Gareth Archer I was about to throw the ball in, but I’d missed the call. Gareth was in my eye line so I just shouted ‘Yours’!”
Regan had severe measles at an early age and afterwards needed a hearing test. He says: “They told my mother my hearing was very poor and it was affecting me. My mum said to me, ‘You’ll have to have hearing aids, then’. I said, ‘I’m not wearing hearing aids to school, I’ll get absolutely torn apart, I can’t be dealing with it mum’. So I didn’t have them.”
Regan was struggling to hear in class and his literacy grades began to fall below par. His parents decided to send him to Clarke’s Grammar, a Bristol-based private school.
He says: “This choice really helped because the classes were small. You weren’t forgotten about and I felt like they really focussed on me. So yeah, I do think it was the right decision to send me to a private school. I had been defiant and naughty to deflect from my deafness and my parents acknowledged this and knew I needed the extra help.
“However, they didn’t play rugby at that school so I continued to play on a Sunday morning for Keynsham U8s. I don’t know where I’d be without rugby.”
Regan’s fascination with rugby began when he was young: “My parents took me to my local rugby club, Keynsham, but there was this team called St Brendan’s we could never beat.
“I told my mum, ‘I’ve got to join them, I don’t like losing, I like to win’. So that’s what I did, I played for St Brendan’s until I was ten and then my parents took me to join Bristol.
“I played for them from U11-U13 and then into Bristol colts, Bristol United, the second XV, and then Bristol first team at the age of 19!”
Regan kept his deafness a secret all the time, explaining: “I was too worried to say anything to the players or coaches because I thought the piss-take would have been relentless!
“I also think it would have actually added pressure because I saw it as a weakness.
“If the coaches weren’t to pick me because they saw my lack of hearing as a burden then, quite possibly, I wouldn’t have been as successful because they would have chosen someone else without a disability. Being deaf can drag you down in life if you let it.”
Regan, 48, adds: “It’s only been in the last ten years that I have become more comfortable with my deafness.”
His stellar career included 46 caps for England and being part of the 2003 and 2007 World Cup squads which earned him an MBE.
He joined Bath from Bristol in 1997, the year he toured with the British & Irish Lions and won the Heineken Cup the following year. A move to Leeds Tykes saw Regan help them gain promotion to the Premiership and also win the 2005 Powergen Cup.
Regan agreed to see an audiologist 18 months ago and it was then he realised the attack of measles had caused his deafness.
He agreed to use hearing aids at last and says: “It’s like a whole different world, now.
“I can hear my wife Maria talking to me in the other room when in the past I’ve had to have the person I’m talking to right in front of me so I can lip-read.
“The world has really changed for me. I’m able to engage in conversation like never before because I can actually hear what the other person is saying.
“Before when I was in conversations, I would mishear what they were saying and I’d feel quite self-conscious about looking stupid for asking them to repeat themselves. I’m not actually stupid I just couldn’t hear!”
Regan’s new-found hearing helped him become Rugby Speaker of the Year in 2019.
Does he believe deaf players these days should use hearing aids?
“Players should do what they are most comfortable with and also it depends how severe their hearing disability is. How the hearing aid would affect the individual in a scrum or a tackle would really need to be considered with regards to health and safety.”
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